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Partial Obedience - 1 Samuel 15:22-31

A Lent Reflection for Friday, March 17th

By Ruth Jensen Zschoche

Selected passage:1 Samuel 15:22-31


I Samuel 15:22-31 (NLT)

22 But Samuel replied,

“What is more pleasing to the Lord: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams. 23 Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft, and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols. So because you have rejected the command of the Lord, he has rejected you as king.”

24 Then Saul admitted to Samuel, “Yes, I have sinned. I have disobeyed your instructions and the Lord’s command, for I was afraid of the people and did what they demanded. 25 But now,

please forgive my sin and come back with me so that I may worship the Lord.” 26 But Samuel replied, “I will not go back with you! Since you have rejected the Lord’s command, he has rejected you as king of Israel.” 27 As Samuel turned to go, Saul tried to hold him back and tore the hem of his robe. 28 And Samuel said to him, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to someone else—one who is better than you. 29 And he who is the Glory of Israel will not lie, nor will he change his mind, for he is not human that he should change his mind!”30 Then Saul pleaded again, “I know I have sinned. But please, at least honor me before the elders of my people and before Israel by coming back with me so that I may worship the Lord your God.” 31 So Samuel finally agreed and went back with him, and Saul worshiped the Lord.


Is there a Scripture passage in your life which was a watershed moment for you? One you can return to over and over and remember where you were, what was happening in your life at the time and what God showed you through it? This passage in Samuel is one of those moments for me. I believe that the situation in this passage was a watershed moment for both Samuel and Saul also.

In the earlier verses of this chapter Samuel told Saul what God wanted him to do. God told Saul through Samuel in verse two “….I have decided to settle accounts with the nation of Amalek for opposing Israel when they came from Egypt. Now go and completely destroy the entire Amalekite nation – men, women, children, babies, cattle, sheep, goats, camels, and donkeys.” There is no question here about who and what are to be destroyed. The entire Amalekite nation is to be completely destroyed.

For some people this story is a difficult one to read, as we have difficulty understanding God’s wrath. But right now, please don’t focus on that part of the story. The focus in this story is about obedience. Saul’s obedience to God’s command. As the story continues to unfold, we see that Saul didn’t completely destroy the Amalek nation. He destroyed everyone but Agag the King who he captured and brought back with him. Saul and his men kept the best of the livestock, everything that appealed to them, and destroyed “only what was worthless or of poor quality.”

In verse 11, God said to Samuel, ‘I am sorry that I ever made Saul king, for he has not been loyal to me and has refused to obey my command.”

Saul then tried to justify his disobedience. He told Samuel that he did obey the Lord. He said that he did destroy everyone else and only brought back King Agag. He also tried to justify keeping the best of the livestock by saying he wanted to sacrifice them to God.

In verse 22 we read Samuel’s response. He asked Saul the question, “what is more pleasing to God, burnt offerings and sacrifices, or obedience to what God has commanded?” In verse 23, we read that Samuel is telling Saul that God has rejected him as king because of his disobedience. Not only did Saul lose God’s favor and the kingdom, but he lost the mentorship of Samuel as well.

At the time that I read this scripture, as a ministry leader, I was in a difficult, unhealthy relationship with a person I was mentoring. As a very empathetic, caring person, I was allowing myself to be used and manipulated. As I would come before God and ask what to do, I kept hearing God tell me that the relationship needed to be ended. Doing that was easier said than done. I would try to end the relationship and then would open the door a crack to let the person back in. As this continued over a number of months, friends were confronting me and trying to help me. One day I read a devotional on this I Samuel passage titled “Partial Obedience is Disobedience”.

The watershed moment came when I realized that I was being partially obedient to God’s words to me to end the relationship. I was justifying that He made me empathetic and caring and thus I could stay in this relationship but in a much smaller way. Being partially obedient made me disobedient.

How often in our lives have we only partially obeyed what God is commanding or asking us to do? Just as Saul justified his not following completely God’s command to destroy the Amalekites, we justify by telling what parts we are doing right!

When I read about God rejecting Saul and removing him from the throne as king, I envisioned my disobedience causing God to remove His blessing on the ministry I lead and removing me from my leadership role. I knew clearly what I had to do. I am grateful for God’s mercy in not giving me what I deserved as He did with Saul and His grace in giving me what I did not deserve which was to continue in leadership and bless the ministry with great growth.

I am now a Spiritual Director because of that moment in my life. God emptied me of everything that was not glorifying to Him. I spent a number of months feeling like I was wandering in a wilderness. Who was I? How did God see me? What did He want me to do for Him? As I began to yield my life in obedience to Him, He led me to Spiritual Direction. Spiritual Direction for myself and then on to seminary where I studied to become a Spiritual Director.

I often return to this passage as a reminder of the lesson I learned that partial obedience is disobedience.

As we walk through Lent we are being led up to the moment where Christ in full obedience took upon Himself my sins, our sins, and died on the cross. He knew in that moment that His obedience would save me from my times of partial obedience. As we read in Ephesians 5:1-2 “Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice, a pleasing aroma to God.”


Is there a watershed moment in your life where you realized that partial obedience was being disobedient? What were God’s blessings when you obeyed and followed God’s way? Thank Jesus for His obedience in going to the cross so that we could know God’s mercy and grace when we are disobedient.


Lord, help me to imitate You in everything I do. Thank you that I have the gift of being one of your dear children. Help me to live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. From the beginning of time, I was already known and loved by God. Christ knew He would offer Himself as a sacrifice for my disobedience and sin becoming a pleasing aroma to God. I want to live so others can see Christ in me.

About the Author

Ruth is grateful for retirement from church ministry but continues as a Spiritual Director as well as Enneagram Coach. She delights in holding space and walking alongside women who are listening for God’s movement in their lives. She is mom to one son, a daughter-in-love and Omi to two beautiful granddaughters. She enjoys running, biking, swimming, reading and praising God in the beautiful Colorado mountains.

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1 commentaire

melanie myatt
melanie myatt
17 mars 2023

Such a beautiful devotion written by a beautiful person! It is so convicting to think that we are patting ourselves on the back, like Saul, even though we have only been partially obedient--as if God has a minimum requirement if we don't care to do the whole thing! Thank you for this good lesson and for sharing how it impacted you personally!

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